I’ve never seen a playground at a bar in the United States. So I was pretty surprised when I walked into the huge outdoor expanse that is La Guingette–a bar, principally, but one that includes a stage for live music, an enormous restaurant, river banks where people sit and chat along the Loire, and–really–a playground.
I was even more surprised that there were kids at this playground at 11 PM. In fact, there were people of all ages I wasn’t expecting to be out in the same place on a Saturday night–middle-aged couples were eating their dinners right next to far rowdier students, and parents danced with their young children on the dance floor.
I could go to a million restaurants in the US and never find a scene quite like this one. For starters, I would never, ever suggest to my friends at Georgetown that we go out for dinner later than 7, or that we would set aside more than an hour to eat. But in Tours, I’ve learned that the French don’t view meals as a transaction–as in, a method to get from hungry to full, with the added benefit of some conversation–but as an integral part of social life and well-being. So people here take their time to savor their food, and, of course, take a lot of pride in the quality of French cuisine.
The same goes for their perspective on nightlife more generally. Bars aren’t regarded as being unsavory as they are in the US, but a place to meet up and spend quality time with friends and the larger community. The vibes reminded me less of the Tombs and more of a homecoming football game in high school, where everyone would hang out by the field and eat hot dogs under the flood lights. That sense of community is palpable in Tours, whether it’s at public markets, city-wide festivals, or a playground where you wouldn’t expect it.